We've already gotten through our first round of series for the 2011 season, and Pitch F/X data is already coming in from those initial performances. While one can't really make any clear conclusions from a single game's worth of Pitch F/X data, particularly when you're hearing these comments from one of the less Pitch F/X-saavy posters on this site, I think that it's noteworthy when you see a starter come out throwing at different velocities than he was at the previous season. Velocity isn't everything when it comes to success for pitchers, but depending on what other weapons you have in your arsenal, it's an integral part of getting out in front of hitters and making the most of your appearances.
Data from yesterday's games isn't available on FanGraphs yet, so we're only covering games from before Sunday, but even so there are a few velocity changes worth keeping an eye on. So while it remains to be seen whether some of these guys are experiencing long-term velocity increases or merely one-game jumps due to excitement and a lack of work so far this year, here are some of the most note-worthy velocity numbers to remember from the first few games of the season.
RHP Tim Lincecum, San Francisco - 2010 FB velo: 91.3 MPH - 2011 FB velo: 93.4 MPH - Diff: +2.1 MPH
During Lincecum's first season as a starter with the Giants, his average fastball came in at a touch above 94 MPH. The velocity decreases that his fastball has seen over the past three years have been well-documented; the right-hander's average fastball came in at just 91.3 MPH last season. Most people have assumed that this declining velocity would be the catalyst for Tiny Tim's descent from elite to merely good, but he showed during the 2010 playoffs that he could still dominate even with a fastball that sat closer to 90 than 95. After seeing his first start from 2011, though, you have to wonder if those concerns even matter. His stuff was harder on Thursday night than we've seen from him, on average, in a couple years. This might be one of those one-game blips, but Lincecum-the-Ace isn't going anywhere as long as he's still reaching into the mid-90's.
RHP Dan Hudson, Arizona - 2010 FB velo: 92.5 MPH - 2011 FB velo: 93.8 MPH - Diff: +1.3 MPH
It just seems like Dan Hudson keeps getting better and better. Before the 2009 season, he was a former fifth-round pick with minimal prospect status. But a crazy-good 2009 led to a consensus view that he good prospect with limited upside coming into the 2010 season. And after an impressive campaign last year, most people believed that he was already close to being a good mid-rotation starter. But with Hudson's latest jump in velocity, you have to wonder if his upside is even higher than a good No. 3 guy. He was sitting 93-95 in his latest start with the D-Backs, higher than we've really ever seen from the 24-year-old before. If he can use that improved velocity to get into better counts and induce more strikeouts, last year's trade could end up being an absolute steal for Arizona.
LHP Jeff Francis, Kansas City - 2010 FB velo: 87.2 MPH - 2011 FB velo: 84.8 MPH - Diff: -2.4 MPH
A bunch people (like me) pegged Francis as a potential steal for 2011 after the former Rockie signed with Kansas City for only $2 million in guaranteed money, but he's going to have a hard time following through on that while throwing as hard as he did in his Royal debut. Never a power pitcher, the lefty generally sat in the 86-88 range during his peak in Colorado, and his fastball even averaged just over 87 MPH in roughly 100 innings last season. But he was throwing mostly 84's and 85's in his first start this season, and it's not clear if he can continue to succeed without that velocity, particularly with a move to the AL.
RHP Luke Hochevar, Kansas City - 2010 FB velo: 93.5 MPH - 2011 FB velo: 91.0 MPH - Diff: -2.5 MPH
As you can see, Kansas City's top-two starters came out of the gates pretty flat this year. Hochevar was one of 2011's weakest Opening Day starters before seeing any losses in velocity, so this can't really be seen as anything but pouring salt on an already open wound. The former No. 1 overall pick's velocity is a key part of what makes him so intriguing for this season, and he becomes a lot less interesting if he's sitting at 91 rather than 93-94. Just keep repeating the Royal mantra: Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy, Dwyer, Odorizzi, Jeffress, Crow. Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy, Dwyer, Odorizzi, Jeffress, Crow.
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado - 2010 FB velo: 96.1 MPH - 2011 FB velo: 91.3 MPH - Diff: -4.8 MPH
You wouldn't need to look at Jimenez's velocity to see that his first start of 2011 was an ugly one (6 IP, 6 R, 1 K, 1 BB). But I think that his velocity is scarier than anything else we saw from Jimenez. The hardest-throwing starter in the majors last season, the 27-year-old shouldn't be seeing major decreases in velocity at this point in his career, but his fastball velo was down nearly 5 MPH from last year in Friday's appearance. Jimenez does a lot of good things on the mound, but his exceptional ability to hold premium velocity deep into games has long been one of the most impressive aspects of his game. If he's no longer tossing 95 MPH heaters in the eighth inning, then you're looking at a very different pitcher from the one that dominated the NL West the past two seasons. Colorado fans should really keep an eye on how hard their ace is pitching in his next start.
Like I said before, though, none of these guys are setting themselves up for greatness or failure this early in the season. Jimenez and Hochevar could easily be injured at the moment, and their top-notch velocities will soon return along with their respective healths. Lincecum and Hudson could have simply been riding on adrenaline from pitching on Opening Day, and they'll both soon return to their previous velocity levels. But last week, all of these guys looked different than we would've generally expected, and you have to wonder when and if they'll all revert to their previous forms.